Sometimes I review shows that aren’t really my kind of thing but are seemingly very good at the thing they do and other people seem to get a lot from them. Then I have to try to be honest about my own experience whilst acknowledging the clear quality of the work. This intelligent clown show by Natalie Palamides, by contrast, is exactly my kind of thing. It pushes all my buttons and ticks all my boxes, so I’ll try my best not to just gush all over it. She won Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year for her show Laid, which I loved, and this follow-up did not disappoint.
Whilst Laid seemed to be an absurdist fool-around with the concept and properties of eggs, with perhaps the subtlest hint of social comment, Nate is more intentionally and clearly about something: male identity and the ethics of sexual conduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The ‘Nate’ of the title is a mini macho man with a Super Mario moustache who arrives on a mini-motorbike and struts about with a cocky swagger. We might expect that this will become a pointed parody of chauvinism, but instead, we get a sympathetic exploration of what it must be like to be this kind of guy struggling to fulfil his desires, maintain his sense of himself and do the right thing. This tone is hinted at in the online description which begins; ‘for the first time in history it’s hard to be a man.’
Soon after arriving, Nate hands out some beers to members of the audience and says that whoever can drink theirs the fastest can do whatever they like to whoever they like in the room. This creates an atmosphere of anticipation and danger, not least because Palamides is clearly topless beneath Nate’s jacket with drawn on chest hair covering her torso. What will the winner do? What would I do? What do I want to do? What will it say about me if I do that?
Palamides has an excellent rapport with the audience and cajoles volunteers into hilarious and heart-warming interactions, from which they all emerge intact and enhanced. Moreover, these interactions all serve the greater storyline: Nate is heartbroken over his ex, who he recognises in the audience with a new boyfriend, who he challenges to a wrestle. During the wrestling s/he purposefully pats on the topless opponents man-breasts, as if encouraging him to do likewise. The themes of consent and responsibility reoccur in subtle ways throughout, with Nate keen to demonstrate that he always asks, “May I?” before engaging in intimate acts. Nate also attends adult art classes during his Edinburgh stay, and becomes involved in a drunken triste on the meadows with his teacher who passes out, leading Nate into tortured soul-searching over whether he has done something wrong.
I should emphasise that throughout this exploration it is continuously very, very funny. It’s not like there are funny bits and then meaningful bits, but rather the humour is derived from our insights into Nate’s psychology. And this is why I think it is such a good example of the power and purpose of clowning: it points to universal human truths through highly entertaining and accessible means conducted with an invigorating sense of daring.